Though Jesus stood trial before high priests and governors, no true fault could be found in Him. Nevertheless, He was condemned to die. Continuing his expositional series in the gospel of Luke, in this sermon R.C. Sproul contrasts the treachery of the accusers with the sinless Son of God.
We will continue now with our study of the gospel according to Saint Luke. I will begin reading at Luke 22:66 and read through 23:25. This is a lengthy account of the trials submitted to by the Lord Jesus Christ. I ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”
But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
This record comes to us through the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and by His supervision. It is the unvarnished Word of God. Please receive it as such and be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, how can we possibly comprehend the depth of this treachery and injustice committed by men in positions of authority against our Lord and Savior? We ask now that your Holy Spirit will not only instruct us but convict us of our own complicity in this human act of treason. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Two Conspiring High Priests
His name was Annas. Historians have indicated that Annas was one of the most influential Jews of the first century. He reigned as the high priest over Israel from AD 6 to AD 15. When one was elected as the high priest over Israel, that office was held for life. In this case, however, Annas ran afoul of the Roman authorities and was deposed, stripped of his title of high priest, and was replaced by Caiaphas, his son-in-law.
Presumably, Annas and Caiaphas lived together in a magnificent palace in which the first part of the trial of Jesus took place. Even though he had been deposed by the Romans, the Jewish people still considered Annas their high priest, so they gave him the authority they believed that office entitled him to hold.
It was Annas and Caiaphas who, with others, conspired against Jesus and ordered His arrest under the cloak of darkness near the garden of Gethsemane after they agreed to pay a price to Judas for his betrayal. They arrested Him at night lest they rouse the public, which held Jesus in high esteem and popularity. They secreted Him away under the guise of soldiers with clubs and swords, and He was brought before Annas and Caiaphas at the palace. It was very strange that two high priests were involved in the trial of Jesus.
The Great High Priest
Let me correct what I just said: there were not two high priests involved in the trial of Jesus. Clearly, there were three. There was Annas, who was really the high priest emeritus, and there was Caiaphas, who was the current high priest. These two shared the office of high priest on the earth, but before Annas and Caiaphas stood the great High Priest, the supreme High Priest, the High Priest whose order of priesthood was greater than that received from the descendants of Levi and Aaron. He was a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. He was the heavenly High Priest, who, in this ironic moment in history, was placed in judgment under the authority of those who were high priests temporarily. Jesus, however, fulfilled the prophecy as told by the book of Hebrews where God said, “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4).
There were other differences. The early high priests on the annual Day of Atonement would offer a lamb without blemish to be sacrificed for the blood to be sprinkled on the altar. This was a symbol of temporary atonement. But the great High Priest with Annas and Caiaphas was Himself the Lamb without blemish. He did not offer another animal to be sacrificed temporarily, but He was both the object and subject of the high priesthood. He not only gave a lamb, but He was the Lamb, who was slain for the atonement of His people’s sin.
Are You the Son of God?
Jesus was dragged in ignominy, escorted by soldiers into the presence of Annas and Caiaphas. They began to interrogate Jesus. They said to Him: “If You’re the Christ, no more being quiet about this, no more messianic secret, no more revealing it privately to Your disciples and telling them to ‘tell no man.’ If You’re the Christ, then say so. Speak up. Tell us.”
Jesus said to them: “If I tell you, you will not believe. You haven’t believed it since day one. You haven’t believed it since I proclaimed the kingdom of God. You haven’t proclaimed it when I’ve been authenticated by the Father, miracle after miracle. What will it take for you to believe that I am the Messiah?”
I ask you: What will it take for you to believe that Jesus was the Messiah? If Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of God, that is the most important truth ever revealed in human history. It changes everything. Everything in your life is changed by the truth that Jesus of Nazareth was the appointed Messiah. He knew these men who were His judges, and He knew that they would not believe. He said, “If I ask you, you won’t answer.”
Listen to what Jesus said to the high priests: “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God. As soon as you’re done with your work, as soon as you hand Me over to the Gentiles, as soon as you secure what you want—the death penalty against Me—and as soon as I am executed, I will ascend to the right hand of God, which is the seat of cosmic authority. In a very short time, you will stand before Me, as I am standing before you this day, to be judged eternally.”
What a warning that was for Annas and Caiaphas, who in a very short period were shocked when they died and faced the judgment of Jesus, the Son of Man. When they heard this, they were furious. They all said, “You’re the Son of God, then?” Jesus said, “You said it.”
Annas and Caiaphas said: “That’s all we need to hear. There’s no further testimony needed”—never mind that they had violated every rule for Jewish courts prohibiting trials at night, on feast days, having perjured witnesses assembled, and so on. They were still trying to get a confession from Jesus. When He said they would see Him at the right hand of God, that was all they needed to hear. They considered it blasphemy. They said, “We’ve heard from Your own lips,” so they all arose and brought Him to Pilate.
False Charges against Jesus
When the Romans subjugated foreign nations, they allowed an unusual latitude of self-rule to the local governments and allowed the people to practice their preferred religions. They had only a few restrictions, the chief of which was that no judgment of the local government could exercise the death penalty without the warrant of Rome. So, the hands of the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin, were tied.
It was necessary for the leaders to deliver Jesus, as the Scriptures had said, to the Gentiles, to the aliens, to Pontius Pilate. They came to him saying, “We found this man misleading our nation, forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ.”
Earlier in the service, when we looked at the law of God, we saw the commandments against perjury, against bearing false witness against our neighbor, but in this text they were bringing false witness against the Son of God. They said, “He doesn’t allow us to pay our taxes.” That was not true. Jesus had clearly defined His position on paying taxes to Caesar, to rendering to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s.
Of all the false charges leveled against Jesus, one stands out head and shoulders above all the rest. Listen to what they said: “We found this man misleading our nation.” Leaders are placed in a position for other people to follow their lead. Jesus called His disciples to Himself with a simple command, “Follow Me,” and now the authorities before Pilate were saying, “He was misleading our people.” Beloved, leaders in office mislead the people all the time—just read the newspaper. But not once did Jesus Christ ever mislead a single soul.
During the first year I was converted as a Christian, I used to meet with some classmates for prayer and Bible study, and we would sing hymns. One of my favorite hymns went: “Where He leads me, I will follow. I can hear my Savior calling, saying, ‘Follow, follow Me.’” I would sing that hymn with gusto, commitment, and singular devotion. What I wanted to do more than anything in my life was to follow Jesus. “Wherever You lead me, I will follow.”
Every sin I have ever committed was a result of my not following Jesus. How many times in my life have I failed to follow Jesus? We do not follow Jesus when we sin, and we sin because we do not want to follow Jesus. The world does not want to follow Jesus. Our culture does not want to follow Jesus. Our government does not want to follow Jesus.
Whoever held a higher view of the sanctity of human life than Jesus? The blood of sixty million aborted babies screams out to Him every day. Whoever had a higher view of the sanctity of marriage than Jesus? Where He leads us, we do not want to go.
I pray Psalm 23: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” The only path Jesus ever led anybody on was the path of righteousness, but that is not our natural path. That is not the road or the way we want to go. We want to do it our way, not His way. The leaders said, “He’s misleading the people.” They claimed that was His crime.
Pilate Found No Fault
Pilate subjected Jesus to a rigorous interrogation. Pontius Pilate was procurator of Jerusalem. He was not the emperor. He was not a member of the senate of Rome. He was a low-ranking official, a petty bureaucrat, a member of the JV squad, assigned to one of the most unpopular posts in all the government as procurator over the rebellious nation of defeated and vanquished Jews.
Philo, the philosopher and theologian of Hellenistic Judaism, wrote a letter describing Pontius Pilate. In that letter, he said Pilate was a man who was inflexible, obstinate, cruel, and unjust, frequently waiving the right of habeas corpus, and who would condemn people without even a hearing. He was notorious for his cruelty, and that is why he was ultimately removed from office by Rome. Even by Roman standards, Pilate was considered abysmal.
We ask: “Why does Pilate’s name appear in the Nicene Creed and in the Apostles’ Creed? Why don’t we read, ‘He was born, suffered under Annas and Caiaphas,’ or, ‘suffered under Herod Agrippa?’” No. It is, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
In the ancient world, it was understood that the ruler of the vicinity had a procuratorial responsibility. As a representative of God Himself, Pilate did not just speak as a private individual. He was considered a persona publica, a public person, whose dictates and decisions were considered the judgments of the gods, or from the Christian perspective, of God Himself.
After his examination, the persona publica, Pontius Pilate, said: “I find no fault or guilt in Him. These charges are false. I’m going to let Him go.” Why did he find no fault in Him? Because Jesus was so clever that He was able to conceal His misdemeanors and felonies for which He was charged? No. The reason he could find no fault in Jesus is that he would need the lamp of Diogenes to find a fault in Jesus, because there were no faults in Jesus.
This was the Lamb without blemish. This was the only sinless person ever to walk the earth. No wonder Pilate could not find any fault in Him. There was no fault in Him. How long would it take for Pilate to find a fault in me? How long would it take for him to find a fault in you? It would not take much; he would not need a bright lamp at all. The blemishes are plain, right before your eyes. But look as hard as he could, Pilate found no fault in Jesus.
The Jewish leaders were angry, and they continued with their charges: “But they were urgent, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching them throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.’” As soon as Pilate heard “Galilee,” he thought he was off the hook. Pilate had been appointed as procurator over Samaria and over Judea, but his jurisdiction did not go to Galilee.
Galilee was the province of Herod Agrippa, the tetrarch responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist and who was haunted to the end of his days about that crime. He had heard all about Jesus. Herod had come down from Galilee for the Passover feast, so he was there in Jerusalem. Pilate said: “Take Him to Herod. He’s the tetrarch. Let him make the judgment.”
We read, “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.” Herod questioned Jesus, presumably saying something like: “Jesus, am I glad to meet You! I’ve heard so much about You. Your name is on the lips of every person in Galilee, and yet I’ve never laid eyes on You before. Here’s a glass of water. Change it into wine for me, will You? Will You take a walk on the water for me? Will You give sight to a blind man or the hearing to the deaf? Raise somebody from the dead. I’ll go get the bones of John the Baptist. You can raise him.”
Yet Jesus opened not His mouth, and so, having run out of questions, Herod mocked Him, arrayed Him in the clothing of royalty, and sent Him back to Pilate.
Behold the Man
Pilate must have thought, “Oh, here He comes again.” Once again, Pilate interrogated Him. Once again, he said, “I see no fault in Him.” Then, the ultimate statement of the persona publica, Pilate presented Jesus before His accusers and said: “Ecce homo. Behold the man.”
When I was a child, I went to high school in a steel mill town in the Monongahela Valley outside of Pittsburgh. Every town along the Monongahela River had a steel mill of its own: Glassport, McKeesport, Clairton, Monongahela, Monessen, and Duquesne. Right up the river was a small mill town called Donora.
An incredible hall-of-fame baseball player grew up in Donora. He did not play for the Pittsburgh Pirates; he played for the Saint Louis Cardinals. Every time Stan Musial came to town with the Cardinals, I made sure I could go to Forbes Field to watch the “Donora Dandy.” He was also called the “Music Box” because of his extremely unusual batting stance. He had this peekaboo stance where he stood way back in the batter’s box, crunched up, and peeked over his shoulder. We all tried it as kids. It did not work, but it worked for Stan.
The greatest accolade he was given was simply the statement, “Stan, the Man.” Stan Musial was one of the greatest baseball players ever to put on a uniform, and he was many things, the “Donora Dandy,” the “Music Box,” all of that, but whatever else he was, he was not “the man.” No one looked at Stan Musial and said, “Ecce homo.” That was reserved for Jesus, the new Adam, the perfect species of humanity, who the author of Hebrews says is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person, the new humanity, and all that humanity was created to be is seen in Jesus. Ecce homo.
With greater urgency, the leaders still screamed for the blood of Jesus. Pilate offered a trade. He was going to hold an election. He said, “It’s our custom to release to you somebody that’s condemned to death, and I will free the prisoner.” He wanted to free Jesus because he found no fault in Him.
Pilate said, “I offer you another man, an insurrectionist, a traitor, a murderer, whose name is Barabbas.” What does that name mean, “Barabbas”? Ironically, the name meant “son of the father.” When the Son of the Father was standing next to Barabbas and the election was held, they all voted for Barabbas.
“Give us Barabbas.” “What about Jesus?” With one voice they hollered: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” These were not the people that were crying “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday. This was a mob of conspirators, the high priests, the Pharisees. They were in the square screaming for the blood of Jesus: “Crucify Him!”
Pilate, in the supreme act of cowardice, acquiesced to the cries of the people and did what the people wanted, not what he knew was the right thing to do. Pilate turned Jesus over. He gave them Jesus, and he said, “Take Him.” He went to a basin, took the water, and washed his hands. “My hands are clean. You take Him”—and they did.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.